DEEP ROOTS ARE NOT REACHED BY THE FROST
A Pastoral Stewardship Message on Putting Down Deep Roots in the Soil of God’s Love
Scriptures: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21
St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, November 14, 2021
The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister
The Ayer family operated one of the largest multi-generational farms in western Kentucky. One year, they purchased some land that had never been developed for planting. So, in the summer of my sophomore year in high school, I was hired to work for a month to help prepare this land for growing beans and corn. These acres included roads, cattle paths, barbed wire, weeds, briars, rocks, and trees. Through those weeks, we cleared brush, pulled thorn bushes, cut down trees, carried logs, picked up rocks, and spread topsoil where the roads and pathways had been for decades – if not centuries. Even after all that work was complete and the acreage had been plowed a few times to turn over the dirt, I was hired again prior to planting for two weeks to just walk the land and pick up anything that wasn’t good soil for planting.
Every time I come across Jesus’ parable about the types of soil, my mind takes me back to those weeks of preparing land for a transformed purpose. Jesus talked about hardpan soil pressed down to be so compacted that the seed of God’s good news could not penetrate to take root. He described stony ground that would receive the seed of God’s good news, but only in a shallow way because it was too rocky to provide any lasting effect. He described ground that was thorn infested where the seed of God’s good news could take root but then be choked out by the many other commitments and priorities that grow to consume a person’s life. He also described good soil where the seed of God’s good news of salvation is internalized so deeply that roots develop and healthy growth bears exponential fruit.
This morning, Chip Wilson read some verses from Ephesians that are like hinges in this letter. The words up to these verses focus on theological foundations and the words that follow these verses are more pragmatic. By the time these words were written, several churches were solidly established with organization and tradition. They were not a century old, but they had enough shared history to make decisions together amidst diversity. They were envisioning ways to live into God’s mission one day at a time. A primary emphasis in Ephesians is how Jesus Christ brings all things together. Individualism is transformed into unity under the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord; “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God of us all.”
The verses we read today are prayerful words offering images of commitment.
As we turn toward our financial commitments for 2022, notice three images in these verses.
The first image is ‘bowing the knees before God.’
The posture of kneeling is complete humility and vulnerability.
When you kneel, you have no defenses left; you acknowledge the superiority of the other.
As we make our financial commitments, this week, let us begin on our knees before God.
The second image is ‘being rooted in love.’
The prayer is for us to be strengthened in power of God’s Spirit as we are rooted in God’s love.
We can be rooted in all kinds of soil – economic, political, social, institutional, familial, etc.
However, friends, the only soil that truly nourishes us and the world is the soil of God’s love.
Let us do whatever we need to do to help our roots in the soil of God’s love grow deeper.
The third image here is ‘an expanding vision.’
These are far reaching words – ‘I pray you may comprehend the breadth, the length, the height, the depth of the love of Jesus Christ who is at work within you to accomplish abundantly far more than you can ever ask or imagine.’
As we stand on tiptoe and peek into 2022, we can see a pandemic lifting as we re-engage with new energy the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love. We will renew our efforts in Community Engagement, Messaging, Reaching Out to All Ages – especially young adults and families with youth and children, Strengthening our Community Impact, and Expanding our Efforts in Spiritual Growth and Congregational Care.
You may have heard about the boy who found a bright new shiny dime on the sidewalk. He was so impressed that he lived the rest of his life looking down. At the end of his years, he had collected more than $4,000 in dimes, nickels, pennies, and quarters, and 35,718 buttons, and more than 50,000 paper clips. He had also collected a pessimistic attitude and a bent spine.
As you make your financial commitments for 2022, please remember that this will be our centennial year. You are the charter members of our second century. However, although we are properly excited about stepping into our second century and remembering our heritage, please listen to me. If the roots of our faith only go back to 1922, we are like this boy just collecting small stuff without a deepening commitment to God’s vision.
Our roots trace back through hardpan soil of racism and exclusivism, rocky soil of culturalisms and nationalisms, and thorny soil of denominationalism and schisms all the way back to the fertile soil on which Jesus’ resurrected body left footprints. YES, BELOVED, OUR FINANCIAL COMMITMENTS MATTER BECAUSE WE ARE ROOTED IN GOD’S LOVE. We have cleared away everything that clutters our lives so we can be healthy soil for God’s good news.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins receives a letter from Gandalf. The letter includes a poem that offers these words:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
After we cleared that land, the Ayer family plowed it over and over and over so what they planted would be able to allow deep roots to grow. Beloved, getting through the final months of this pandemic is like transitioning through autumn into the frost of winter. LET US PUT DOWN DEEPER ROOTS INTO THE SOIL OF GOD’S LOVE, FOR DEEP ROOTS IN THE SOIL OF GOD’S LOVE ARE NOT REACHED BY THE FROST.
Amen and AMEN.